Obama's Inconceivable, Undesirable, Nuclear-Free Dream

Escalating events in Egypt and Syria are only the tip of the iceberg of international conflicts the United States may have ot engage in.

President Barack Obama
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From a global security standpoint, escalating events in Egypt and Syria are only the tip of the iceberg. Over the next several years, the United States will also have to deal with a steadily expanding number of other global "hot spots." Some of these flash points could involve the threat or use of nuclear weapons.

How shall we best respond to this significant threat? In order to fully maintain American security in these volatile circumstances, President Barack Obama will need to garner the indispensable benefits of a newly-refined and robust national nuclear strategy.

On its face, this seems like a perfectly obvious and unremarkable observation. Nonetheless, from the moment that he first entered the White House, this president has made it clear that he opposes all nuclear weapons. Ignoring post World War II history, when such weapons likely prevented a third world war between the two superpowers, he steadfastly maintains that they are inherently corrosive and destabilizing. Indeed, for Mr. Obama, there seemingly can be no more high-minded objective than creating "a world free of nuclear weapons."

Plainly, however, global denuclearization is an improbable, and possibly inconceivable, goal. Selectively, at least, it is also undesirable.  

[See a collection of political cartoons on Syria.]

For some states, nuclear weapons may be all that stand between continued survival and annihilation. Without nuclear weapons, for example, Israel, a country smaller than Lake Michigan, and surrounded by more than 20 dedicated enemy states, would no longer be able to deter existential aggressors. Deprived of nuclear weapons, it could quickly be stripped of any residually meaningful way to defend itself.

America, too, may now be placing itself at unnecessary risk. With too deteriorated an arsenal of nuclear weapons, the U.S. could ultimately find itself without a credible deterrent, against a variety of both present and future nuclear adversaries. In this connection, one must first understand that a credible nuclear deterrence posture always involves more than an assembled arsenal of highly destructive warheads. Much more.

Before it is too late, President Obama's declared goal should cease being "a world free of nuclear weapons," but rather a world that would be less susceptible to eruptions of total war and megaterror. The national strategic objective, therefore, ought no longer be a concocted or idealized world. America needs a nuanced and sophisticated nuclear doctrine, not a thoroughly fictive vision, not one that remains premised on the stubbornly banal syntax of amateur thought.

We require a finely-codified plan for national security, a plan that can deal capably with various jihadi adversaries, both state and sub-state, and also with prospective and still-formidable nuclear foes in Russia, North Korea, China, Iran and, possibly, even a post-coup Pakistan. Whether the White House willingly acknowledges it or not, the world's first nuclear war could begin not in the Middle East (where it is fairly expected, because of Iran's unimpeded nuclearization), but in Southwest Asia. In both the Middle East and Southwest Asia, we will need a substantially upgraded strategy for deterring nuclear terrorism.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Middle East.]

At least in part, this strategy should involve better worldwide security for fissile material, such as highly-enriched uranium. There are already clear and unassailable indications that al-Qaida has been seeking nuclear weapons for several years. Following earlier disclosures about Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan and his elaborate network for selling nuclear secrets, we know also that there exists a functioning black market for smuggling weapons-usable nuclear material.

During the 1950s, the United States first began to institute various formal doctrines of nuclear deterrence. At that time, at least geopolitically, the world was a much simpler place. Global power distributions were then tightly bipolar; our indisputable enemy was the Soviet Union.